On writing

July 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of my first book, Cuttin’ the Rug Under the Moonlit Sky: Stories and Drawings About a Bunch of Women Named Mae (Doubleday, 1997).

I had no idea that what started out as words in my journal would become a book that would get mentioned or reviewed in publications like Essence, the Los Angeles Times, and Newsweek, among others.

I am now a history professor who often writes scholarly pieces, but I have never forgotten the earlier works I wrote for general audiences. I’d like to reach larger audiences again. I sense many people want to hear some of the things I have been researching. A lot of my work addresses these complex times in which we are living.

Along the way, I have met people who have asked me for direction on how to get published because they have something they want to share, too. Sometimes such people want me to read their work. Time won’t permit the latter, but I will share a few thoughts (one person  that I know listened to these thoughts. The result was a published book with Simon & Schuster).

  1.  Please do not write solely to be published. Write because you have something you want to say, or something your characters want to say, if you’re writing fiction.

2. Read Poets & Writers and other periodicals that address the needs of writers. Sometimes a published piece begins as an essay. Find calls for writings and submit. There are lots of listings in P & W that might prove helpful.

3. Don’t be afraid to self-publish. Or do more. It may take a while, but if you have a good piece of writing and especially if it’s published in a journal or online, you might look for an agent. Be sure it’s someone who really hears you. Poets & Writers is a good place for this. I found my long-time agent here.

4. There are many places for more advice, but I can’t think of a more generous website than Terry McMillian’s. Read her advice carefully. Listen to her, too.

5. There are unique experiences you may face. I contributed an essay to an edited collection by Jewel Parker Rhodes filled with advice for black women writers.

6. Writers write.  Writers also make time to write. Learn your process. I especially studied Maya Angelou‘s. Find a writing class or writing group filled with people you trust who can offer feedback. You might also learn more from Octavia Butler’s process.

7. Stay positive. Words, no pun intended, have power.